Conference to promote economic creativity

Innovation Summit to feature speakers from other states, countries

What do Juneau and Iceland have in common? A fish-driven economy, of course. And soon, they’ll also share the economic insights of Thor Sigfusson, visiting from Iceland next week to speak on innovation in the seafood industry.

Sigfusson is one of many speakers on the docket for the Innovation Summit, a meeting of the minds on economic development in Juneau and Southeast Alaska. The third annual conference is sponsored by the Juneau Economic Development Council, the U.S. Forest Service and Alaska Communications.

“At the end of the day, all of this is supposed to inspire economic development,” JEDC program and communications officer Marie Franklin said.

The concept of economic “clusters” will be of high importance at the summit, JEDC Executive Director Brian Holst said. Clusters are groups of businesses in the same industry and geographic area that function together and benefit each other. Clusters bring in new money to the community from outside. For example, a hotel and a whale watching company would both fall under Juneau’s “Visitor Products Cluster.”

“They complement each other, but they also compete with each other,” Holst said.

Juneau also has an “Ocean Products Cluster,” comprised of local fishermen, seafood processors, boat mechanics and other related businesses. Sigfusson, the founder and managing director of the Iceland Ocean Cluster, will give his perspective on developing a strong and lasting, yet innovative, seafood industry, Franklin said.

“As we introduce this concept (of clusters), it’s good to hear about positive examples where clusters work,” Holst said.

Also at the conference, Susan Bell, Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development commissioner, will speak on the role of government in economic growth, and what the state is doing to stimulate the economy.

“Nobody argues if there should be a role — they argue what the role is,” Holst said.

Patrice Kunesh, U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary of Rural Development, is visiting from Washington, D.C., to speak on the Tongass National Forest, the Roadless Rule and its impact on development in Southeast Alaska.

Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, will speak on the role of the arts in supporting creativity and innovation in businesses, as well as the concept of the arts sector as a business sector.

The Innovation Summit will take place Jan. 29-30 at Centennial Hall. The two-day event costs $150 per person, including meals. However, admission to portions of the summit can be purchased for less. More information on the conference, including a full schedule of speakers, can be found online at www.jedc.org/innovation.

The summit comes just in time for the beginning of legislative session — lawmakers will be able to attend and mingle with stakeholders while learning about issues and ideas surrounding the local economy.

“The topics we’ll be discussing could be interesting to people up the hill as well,” Holst said.

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.

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